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Mr. Leigh : I am glad that the hon. Gentleman amplified his earlier comment, and perhaps my Friend the Minister will take up that point. It is a principle of English criminal law that action must be intentional. Whether an action that is found to be intentional but which causes no damage--though that may be difficult to quantify--can be deemed criminal is an interesting question of jurisprudence which I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will want to pursue. A more moderate and sensible comment was made by Chris Pounder, head of the Hoskyns information protection and management division, who agrees that unauthorised access to a computer should not automatically be a crime. He believes that a criminal law could be oppressive, because it would apply only to instances where no theft took place and no intentional damage was done. He says :
"Are we really saying that members of staff who make unauthorised use of a firm's personal computer to produce their own CV or to every perpetrator of a childish prank that their misdemeanour is worthy of a criminal record they will keep for the rest of life?
One may not agree with that view, but it is one worth consideration by my hon. Friend the Minister.
Mr. Arbuthnot : The answer to the question raised in the quote given my hon. Friend is clearly no. The Law Commission says that if one has authorised access to a computer but uses it for unauthorised purposes, one will not be caught by the Bill.
All hon. Members surely agree that there has been far too much romanticising about hackers. Theirs is not a romantic activity. Tony Fainberg writes that hackers are often not very skilled operators and because that is so, they can cause much damage.
He refers to a particularly worrying case :
"The person who put this program together appears to lack fundamental insight into some algorithms, data structures and network propagation. A true expert could have produced a far more virulent piece of electronic vandalism".
Hacking damages industry, but we should also cut away some of the sensationalism that it has attracted. A headline on 14 May in The Observer read :
"Hackers teach KGB' to break data secrets.'
Column 1174Although the problem of hacking is serious, the Bill can address it. Perhaps amendments may need to be made in Committee, but I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside on presenting it, and I wish the Bill speedy progress to the statute book.
Mr. Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West) : The debate has been very refreshing for two reasons. There has been almost total agreement among right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House about the seriousness of the problem of computer abuse, and the debate is concerned with the problems of a modern industry--an industry of the present and of the future. On so many occasions during my time in the House we have spent far too long debating industries of the past. I must declare a personal interest as an adviser to the Digital Equipment Company for some time. Therefore, I am aware of the deep concern felt by that company and by the computer industry generally about the growing problem of computer abuse.
Information technology, which is most welcome, is used throughout the whole of British industry and commerce. Electronic mail and the other electronic devices used in today's paperless office, which I welcome, replace conventional paperwork by electronic communication. As that has grown, so, too, has the need for new regulations, to bring within the criminal law, and thus eliminate, practices that can damage industry.
Whole new industries depend on computers. My hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) spoke of the damage that can be done by illicit access to health records. She made several good points about the harm that could be caused by people with mal-intent accessing health record systems. I greatly welcome the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) in presenting his Bill.
We should nail once and for all all the criticism that is made about introducing such legislation in the form of a private Member's Bill rather than of a Government Bill. Private Members are fully entitled to legislate and I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside has brought forward a Bill that is so badly needed. It is a waste of time to carp at the Government for not bringing in such a Bill. We would be better employed in congratulating my hon. Friend on the work that he has done and the care and attention to detail with which he has brought the Bill to the House. I am confident that under his guidance, if the House gives the Bill a Second Reading today, it will go through Committee stage healthily, and will become law very soon. I think that we will be grateful to him if that happens.
The proper functioning of the computerisation of personal records, whether medical, data information or whatever, in business and industry is crucial. There is a safety angle as well. Nowadays, many of our great industries, such as steel or the chemical industry and most manufacturing industries involve some computer control and programming. They have to do so to be able to compete in the world. It is a horrific thought that people might have illegal access or fool around with computers. I say, with great respect, to the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) that even if people fool around but do not have criminal or bad intent, they can cause damage and one has to be careful.
Column 1175It is crucial that the computer programs on which industries depend have proper integrity. As more and more electronics come into British industry, we have to be able to protect them, and to provide a law to do so. If we do not, we will damage competitiveness and could cause loss of life or injury to people working in industry if computer systems break down or go wrong.
Other hon. Members have mentioned the cost of illegal entry to computer systems, and that can be high, but we must also remember that there can be damage, and it can cause loss of life or injury. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) that industry has a prime responsibility to ensure that systems are secure. In exactly the same way as perimeter fences, doors and windows should be secure, it is crucial to ensure that computer systems are secure. However it is right that the Government should bring forward legislation, although a responsibility remains with owners and operators of computer systems to ensure proper security.
As anyone who has ever suffered from a burglary knows, however hard one tries to make something secure, occasionally people break in, and great damage can result. Therefore, it is necessary to introduce a law into this area, and if our industries are to prosper in the computer and electronic age it is right that they should have proper protection.
I hope that the House will give this well-thought-out Bill a Second Reading to enable it to go to Committee, and I wish it godspeed through the processes of the House. I hope that it will become law this year, and very soon.
Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South) : I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls) about the necessity for the Bill. Like many hon. Members on both sides of the House, particularly on the Conservative Benches, I do not like legislation for the sake of legislation. When I was first approached about the question of computer misuse and hacking, I thought that the law must surely be adequate. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) was not an enthusiast for legislation on computers and hacking, but he was persuaded by the strength of the argument and the concern felt by many companies. I help to represent the views of members of the Telecommunications Managers Association in this place, and they are extremely concerned to protect their companies from unauthorised outside access to telecommunications networks. That concern has been reflected in committees of the House--the parliamentary information technology committee and the parliamentary and scientific committee. BP is a large employer in my constituency. When it invited me to lunch I thought that we would be talking about drilling at Wytch Farm but it turned out that the company was concerned about computer misuse and hacking and large international companies' problems in seeking to protect their business from such activities. Only last week I went around one of Sainsbury's hi-tech stores. All the refrigerators at that store are controlled by computer, and for purposes of out-of-hours maintenance, those computers are accessible to maintenance staff via a
Column 1176computer terminal. They were worried that someone dialling into the system and gaining unauthorised access could switch off all the refrigerators.
We must kick into touch the romantic view of hacking. The crucial difference between hacking and other types of damage is that the law does not cover the mechanism whereby access to the information is gained. If a doctor has a row of filing cabinets in his surgery, he can lock them, and although it is probably not an offence to look at the files, it is certainly an offence to break a window or a lock or to force entry to the premises or cabinet to look at the data. The Bill would provide that if one broke an electronic lock, one would be breaking the law as surely as one would by breaking a physical lock. I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) and the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) who feel that the matter is already adequately covered and that we do not need additional legislation.
When I read the Law Commission's report, I was worried that someone who dialled the wrong number when trying to log on to another computer would be caught by the Bill. But clause 1(1)(c) makes it clear that to commit an offence one must intend to gain unauthorised access. The point is well covered in this extremely well-drafted Bill, which has my full support.
If one gets a crank telephone call or a hacking telephone call it is often very difficult to trace the caller. I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside that it is already open to British Telecom and Mercury to give the information that is necessary to trace the perpetrators of such crimes. Perhaps we should consider BT making available special telephone numbers so that all those who dial the numbers can be logged. The relevant records are already there, because when one dials a number, BT or Mercury records the call and the charge. But the link between the caller's records, which are already held on computer, and the number itself is more difficult to establish. Such a system would help not only in solving the problem of computer hacking but in dealing with crank calls, threatening calls, and sexual nuisance calls.
I used to work for Sinclair, and I am well aware that companies such as Sinclair, Amstrad and IBM have brought down the prices of computers, giving people easy access to them. Those who believe that it is their God-given right to have access to other people's computers do not need to be put out of business altogether. All that groups of hackers need to do is to set up tests for each other on their computers and say, "You are authorised to try to break into my system." They could create puzzles for each other, similar to crossword puzzles. That would be a harmless enough hobby. We spent three months getting all the data into the first computer that the recruitment company for which I worked obtained. We did not have access to outside telephone lines, but a computer misfunction caused the data to crash. To find, after three months of hard labour, working long hours and getting everyone involved, that it is impossible to get access to computer data because of a virus can lead to an almost suicidal frame of mind.
The effect of the Bill will be similar to what happened after the law on seat belts was introduced. Few people have been prosecuted under that legislation. The vast majority of people are law abiding ; they have observed that law. I believe, therefore, that the hackers, and others,
Column 1177will decide to play fair by the law and desist from what they are doing. It is a timely and sensible measure which I fully support. 12.55 pm
Mr. James Arbuthnot (Wanstead and Woodford) : An overriding concern has already been mentioned to you, Madam Deputy Speaker--the Minister's lunch. I shall therefore be as brief as possible. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) on his good fortune in doing so well in the ballot and on choosing to introduce this Bill. One should not believe everything that one reads in the newspapers, but I have read an article which suggests that at first my hon. Friend was disinclined to concentrate on this Bill but that he changed his mind when the AIDS diskette was disseminated throughout the country.
Mr. Colvin : Another issue tipped the balance in favour of the Bill. A staggering amount of damage is being caused by computer misuse to UK Limited. I mentioned that it amounts to probably £400 million a year, but perhaps as much as £2 billion a year of damage is being caused to our computer systems. I did not believe that the nation could wait for another year before a Government Bill was introduced ; action was needed straight away.
My hon. Friend said that he believed that the Bill would make the sending of the AIDS diskette a criminal offence. As a matter of purely technical detail, I doubt whether the Bill would cover the sending of that diskette. I am not sure under which clause it would be caught. If my hon. Friend suggests that it would be caught under clause 4, I refer him to its wording, which is that a person is guilty of an offence if
"he does any act which causes an unauthorised modification of the contents of any computer's memory".
The writing of a computer program does not cause modification of the contents of a computer's memory. The sending of a diskette through the post to anyone does not cause modification of a computer's memory. What causes the modification is the user of the computer putting the diskette into the computer, switching it on and trying to access that diskette. The wording of the clause ought to be examined to ensure that it catches the kind of virus that was produced by the AIDS diskette.
The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) referred to the sexual inadequacies of hackers. I have seen an article in DEC News that refers, interestingly, to the personality profile of hackers. It says that hackers
"may well be unemployed because they spend all night hacking, and lose their job because of poor performance or bad time-keeping, or they may have been sacked for hacking whilst at work. So despite being very intelligent, they find it difficult to hold down a job, and consequently the are often poor. The next stage in the downward spiral is that they find it difficult to reconcile being poor with the fact that they have a tremendous amount of knowledge about computing. This contradiction is usually rationalised in one of two ways. They either go in for fraud, or become security consultants' who sell their ability to safeguard your computer system from other hackers, usually after breaking into it, which is little short of extortion."
That is an interesting and almost certainly accurate profile of the convinced hacker rather than the juvenile.
Various arguments have been raised against the Bill. One of them, which was not ventilated at length today,
Column 1178relates to trespass. While hacking may be trespass, trespass on to land is not regarded in this country as criminal per se. The argument runs that if that is so, why should entry into a computer be considered criminal?
We have already heard some of the answers to that question. Innocent hackers can cause amazing damage because they might not know what they are doing. In In that sense, an innocent hacker may be like a bull in a china shop. However, there is a more general problem. If a company is aware that its computers have been attacked, it suffers a loss of confidentiality. The company cannot be sure that its computer processes will work in future and that its transactions will produce the intended results. Therefore, the company will have to reorganise all its computer data bases and that will mean that the computers will not be available to the company. If a company's activities are time-sensitive, they may be marginalised and the company might be forced out of business. The latter is an exceptionally serious result of the apparently harmless activity of hacking.
A leader in The Times recently stated :
"The Commission's proposals will make it plain that hacking is always serious, even if the intention is mere mischief--that the silly game is finally over."
The issue is whether criminal law should be available for trespass into computer systems. We must remember that trespass is criminal in certain circumstances either where statute makes it so or where there is wilful and malicious damage. For example, statute law makes trespass criminal where trespass occurs on certain property and in particular on British Rail property for which fines are rightly imposed. Similarly, it is a crime to trespass on certain property if no damage is done, but firearms are being carried or if someone trespasses in pursuit of gain. Therefore, there are precedents for trespass being criminal and it is simply a matter of statute making such trespass criminal. I believe that computers should be the kind of property on which to trespass would be criminal, because of the damage that such trespass can cause.
It has been suggested that if we clean the hackers off the computing networks, we will simply allow computer companies to sell insecure systems. To a certain extent that is true. If we solve the problem of burglars, we might allow people to leave their doors unlocked at night. That might be beneficial for this country. I share the astonishment expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) at the argument that hackers should be thanked for exposing security weaknesses. My hon. Friend expanded that to burglary and I will expand it to mugging. Perhaps we should thank muggers for exposing our physical weaknesses in being unable to stand up to them. That is an extraordinary idea which we should reject completely.
It is true that some forms of computer security should be improved and a great deal can be done. A study of 20 European companies carried out by Coopers and Lybrand showed that 19 had inadequate standards of security which were a real threat to the economic development of those companies. The report said :
"The catastrophic effects of poor security are likely to discourage organisations from becoming any more dependent on their network systems."
That suggests that there may be a level of complexity in our society beyond which, because of safety interests, we may be frightened to go. If hacking increases our fears,
Column 1179there will be damage to the cohesion and organisation of our society. That is a perfectly good and sufficient justification for the Bill.
The Minister of Industry (Mr. Douglas Hogg) : This has been an unusually interesting debate, not least because it appears to have attracted almost unanimous support for the Bill. It may help the House if I outline the Government's position on the Bill. I begin, as have other hon. Members, by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) for having brought forward this Bill and, perhaps more to the point, for having mastered the complexities of the subject and for the persuasive and lucid way in which he explained the Bill and responded to a range of specific questions. In short, the House is indebted to my hon. Friend.
The House is indebted also to my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson). She was kind enough to mention to me that, unfortunately, she has a pressing constituency engagement. She has done more than any other hon. Member to draw attention to the problem of computer misuse. Last April she brought forward a Bill that was later withdrawn, and she has been extremely active in drawing Ministers' attention to the relevant problems. It is right that the Law Commission report should have paid special tribute to my hon. Friend for her special work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside instanced the wide range of uses to which computers are put. For example, he said that his name appears on 102 computers. He modestly suggested that the same was true of other hon. Members, but I rather hope that it was particular to him.
Perhaps it is desirable to remind hon. Members that computers are not only a sophisticated way of collating and storing information. Even more important, they have operational purposes, and they are fully defined in the Law Commission's report. Good examples can be found at paragraph 1.15, where hon. Members who are interested in the subject will see a range of operational purposes. They include "world-wide inter-bank fund transfer systems air traffic control systems, and hospital systems for calculating drug dosages" and many others. We are not discussing exclusively the storage and collation of information ; we are also discussing the use of computers as an operational tool. That emphasises why computer misuse can be serious.
My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside said that, once a system is entered, the owner must spend substantial sums of money and utilise much manpower in putting the system back into good order. However, other consequences can flow. Those who have access to or try to achieve access to air traffic control systems could be putting lives at risk. Those who achieve access to hospital computer records which provide for the delivery of drug dosages could have the same effect.
Hon. Members may have noted the specific case referred to at paragraph 1.16 of the Law Commission report. A factory worker was nearly killed because somebody had misprogramed the program that caused robotic machines to operate and, in this case, to
Column 1180malfunction. The consequences of computer misuse are therefore capable of being serious and are not limited only to financial issues ; they can, in certain circumstances, threaten lives and property. The Bill closely reflects the contents of the Law Commission's report that was published in October 1989, differing from its recommendations in only minor respects. The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) complained that the Law Commission had not annexed the draft Bill to the report and went on to say that we do not know its intentions. I do not agree with that conclusion. Anybody who reads the Law Commission's report, and who carefully studies the contents of page 35, will have the clearest possible view of what the Law Commission had in mind and in detail.
The Law Commission considered the vital question whether there are important gaps in the existing law in the context of computer crime. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) touched on that, and I shall refer to his points later. In broad substance, the Law Commission concluded that there are three specific gaps, and they are addressed by the Bill. However, it also stated that most of the crimes involving computer misuse are covered by the existing law. To make an obvious point, the use of a computer to steal is, in most circumstances, covered by the law of theft. Computer misuse resulting in death or injury is, of course, covered by existing criminal law if those consequences were intended or the actions were done recklessly and the results were a consequence of that intention or recklessness. Therefore, in most respects- -although not in all--the existing law covers the mischief to which the Bill is directed. It does not cover the entirety of the mischief, which is why the Bill is so important.
It might be helpful to the House if I turned now to the detail of the Bill and to some of the purposes that it is designed to achieve. Clause 1, with which I can deal briefly because my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside has explained it so very well already, provides for the offence of unauthorised access to a computer. Standing alone, that offence is not covered by the existing law. If the House will forgive me, I shall identify the prohibited act or the actus reus and the intent of the mens rea, as lawyers say. The prohibited act is that of accessing a computer to perform a function without authority. To establish an offence, there must be the act of causing a computer to function and that activity must be unauthorised. The prosecution must establish both elements before a conviction can be obtained.
On the issue of mental intent, it is necessary to establish both the intention of securing access and the knowledge that the authority for that act is not possessed. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle expressed the anxiety that innocent folk might be caught. I do not believe that they would. A specific intent is required--the intent to secure unauthorised access. If the prosecution cannot establish that mental intent, it will fail. A broader question was raised by the hon. Member for Leyton. It was answered in an eloquent intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot). It is the question of the justificaton and intellectual underpinning of the clause 1 offence. My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside said--and I agree--that we are not dealing primarily with the protection of confidential information. That may be a perfectly legitimate purpose, but it is not the prime
Column 1181justification for the Bill. The prime justification for clause 1 is to reassure people who have computers about the integrity of their system. I believe that that is of fundamental importance. As I have already said, computers are used for a multiplicity of purposes both operational and for the collating and storing of information. That purpose will continue. People will expand the range of computers and their functions. The integrity of systems needs protection to the extent that the law can provide.
The hon. Member for Leyton characterised the clause 1 offence as directed at those who simply have a look around. In many circumstances, the fact that someone has a look around places on the owner the requirement to remedy any defects caused, put in place new software, check out the system and spend large sums of money. Once someone has had a look around the system, it has been broken into and its integrity put at risk. That activity is not right and the computer owner has every reason to complain. The clause is directed against such a threat.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford drew a distinction between the law of trespass and the law of trespass with grave effect which was apt.
Trepass is not a criminal offence because usually it does not give rise to damage. However, trespass in the case of computers gives rise to damage because the owner of the system is put under an obligation to carry out remedial works. There is a distinction in principle, and I find what my hon. Friend said entirely persuasive.
Clauses 2 and 3 are interrelated. Clause 2 deals with the offence of unauthorised access with intent to commit a serious crime. There is not so much a gap in the law as a need to strengthen it. Clauses 2 and 3 reflect the particular nature of computer misuse and the speed with which crimes involving computers can be carried out. The final act in a fraud carried out using computers may take only the time necessary to make a telephone call. However, it is likely that a good deal of preparatory work has been carried out prior to that event--for example, searching for passwords or exploring the security arrangements of a bank's computer.
The offence created will enable the police to catch offenders at the preparatory stage rather than when they have carried out the fraud and spirited away the profits into a foreign bank account. It would also catch offenders who committed unauthorised access to prepare for a crime--for example, blackmail, or even murder. My hon. Friend for Gainsborough and Horncastle asked an important question about whether that is covered by existing law. That question represents one of considerable difficulty, but my opinion coincides with what appears in the Law Commission's report. In substance, many of the acts covered in clauses 2 and 3 constitute attempts in law, because we are dealing with preparatory acts. The problem is that to constitute the offence of an attempt in law the acts complained of must be sufficiently proximate to the commission of the offence. In the case I instanced of, for example, gaining access to a bank account, a range of safeguards--passwords and security systems--will be present. The question is whether the computer hacker, who is trying out those passwords to get access, is committing the offence of attempt or committing some other criminal offence. The Law Commission examined this point and came to the conclusion that the process of trying out the passwords would not constitute the offence of attempt because it was
Column 1182not sufficiently proximate to the ultimate offence. I share that view. But, the Law Commission also concluded that those particular acts should constitute an offence because the length of time between those preparatory acts and the final offence can be extremely brief, having regard to the nature of computer use. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle will appreciate that there is a need for the type of offences that are encapsulated in clauses 2 and 3.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle also pressed me closely about clause 4, which is designed to close the gap the Law Commission identified in matters relating to damage done to intangible property. Thus, if I may give a crude example, I may be prosecuted for smashing an axe through a computer since I have caused damage to physical property. It is by no means certain, however, that I could be prosecuted for introducing a virus into a machine that destroyed many thousands of hours of work stored on data in that machine. That is because it is by no means certain that damage of a non-physical kind is damage for the purposes of the Criminal Damage Act 1971. That is a lacuna because damage to data and damage to the software is not of itself necessarily damage within the malicious damage legislation. For that reason, the Law Commission thought it necessary to recommend the change now contained in the Bill. I agree with that recommendation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford also raised an extremely interesting and nice point relating to the AIDS diskette. He asked whether a person who sends a diskette, received by another and put by that other into a machine, is causing damage for the purposes of clause 4. The answer is yes. The Law Commission intended that effect, and I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Romney and Waterside has achieved it in the Bill. If my hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford would care to look at clause 18(6), he will find that my hon. Frined the Member for Romsey and Waterside has provided that any act
"which contributes towards causing a modification shall be regarded as causing it."
The truth is that there are a number of causes, the sending of the diskette being one and the act of the person feeding it into a machine being another. Any one of those causes is a cause for the purposes of clause 4.
My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside has gone into considerable detail about extending jurisdiction to acts committed outside the normal jurisdiction of the courts of England, Wales and Scotland. His approach to the matter is entirely right.
I intend to sit down at about 1.30 pm. Therefore, I shall concentrate only on one or two other criticisms that have been raised.
Considerable concern has been expressed by a number of hon. Members, most notably by my hon. Friends the Members for Corby (Mr. Powell) and for Torridge and Devon, West about the enforceability of the legislation. They focus on two issues. The first is whether the police require enhanced powers of search to enforce the law, particularly under clause 1.
The second, and quite different, issue is whether the provisions of section 69(1), of PACE--to use the jargon--will exclude statements produced by a computer that are relevant, credible and probative. That point was considered in detail by the Law Commission. I refer hon. Members to paragraphs 4.8 and 4.9 of its report. The Law
Column 1183Commission concluded that the provisions of PACE did not have the effect I have just described. It concluded that, in most respects, the provisions of section 69(1) would not prevent the admissibility of relevant and probative evidence.
However, the argument goes a little further. The PACE provisions are of general application and have not as yet been fully tested. I urge the House to be slow about changing provisions that have not been fully tested and may well not have the effect suggested by those who are concerned about them. There will be other opportunities in subsequent Sessions, perhaps in a Criminal Justice Bill, to fill any gaps that may subsequently appear. I do not think that there is a weakness, but if there is we can put it right when it becomes apparent.
Whether we should extend police powers is a slightly different matter. In broad terms I have some sympathy with the hon. Member for Leyton, who is reluctant for police powers to be extended, as am I. The Law Commission considered this matter quite carefully in its report, and its arguments are concisely summarised in paragraphs 2.20 and 2.21.
The House will appreciate that we are concerned only with clause 1 because clause 2 gives rise to arrestable offences within the definition of PACE and, therefore, the ordinary principles applied by PACE apply to clause 2 offences. The House will note that there are already considerable investigative powers available to the police that touch on clause 1 offences. They are summarised in the two paragraphs to which I referred.
Hon. Members must consider two issues, one of principle and one of tactics. I hope that the House will forgive me for saying that private Members' legislation is a fragile vessel, and if we start taking action that many people find unacceptable we could lose the Bill. There is no doubt that if we were to extend the police powers to search in the context of clause 1 we could arouse much antagonism to the Bill that would not otherwise be aroused. I would be sorry if that happened.
On the issue of principle, I would not wish to extend police powers unless I was persuaded that it was wholly necessary to do so. The Law Commission took that view, and I agree with it. I would not wish the law to be extended unless there was compelling evidence of need. I shall make two final points. My hon. Friend the Member for Corby raised a most interesting point regarding international co-operation. To some extent, the matter will be addressed by the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill, which is wending its way through the other place and is relevant to precisely the
Column 1184issue that my hon. Friend has raised. So too are the provisions in the Bill regarding jurisdiction in respect of offences committed outside what is normally the jurisdiction of the courts.
The hon. Member for Leyton argued at some length that we should define the word "computer" in the Bill. To repeat what I said in my intervention in his speech, that point was carefully considered by the Law Commission in pragraph 3.39 of its report. The considered view of the Law Commission, backed, as I understand it, by the majority of consultees on the matter, is that it would be an error to define "computer". I am entirely persuaded by what my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside said on the matter.
I know that the House wishes to proceed to another measure, so I shall conclude my remarks. I hope that the Bill will receive a Second Reading and that subsequently it will be enacted.
Mr. Colvin : With the permission of the House, I shall detain it for just another 60 seconds to congratulate hon. Members on the constructive way in which they participated in the debate. I am aware that the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) is about to bring forward her measure to abolish warrant sales in Scotland, so I shall be brief.
The manner in which hon. Members have given way to me during this four-hour debate has enabled most questions to be answered and my hon. Friend the Minister of State has answered most of those that remained.
I have been checking my notes, and two specific questions asked by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) during the debate still require answers. The first, on clause 11, related to Scottish citizenship. My answer is simply that if the Scottish court has the jurisdiction to try a case under the legislation, under Scottish law the nationality of the accused person is immaterial, and therefore there is no need to cover that explicitly in the Bill. He also raised a question under clause 12 about controls over access to computer systems by the police in the exercise of their duties. Clause 4 is intended only to protect existing statutory or common law rights. There is no intention of giving the police or anyone else a general licence to hack. If the police seize a computer under a search warrant, they must be allowed to access it in order to read the files.
I thought that the House should know the answer to those questions as it might save time in Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).
Order for Second Reading read.
Before turning to the main elements of the argument I wish to propound in support of the Bill, I should like to pay tribute to my sponsors for their support throughout the preparation of the Bill, and in particular to those who have assisted me in drafting the Bill. I am sure that the Under- Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas -Hamilton), will appreciate that although it is a simple Bill, the schedule was very complicated to draw up and a great deal of effort has gone into it.
I should also like to mention my co-sponsor, the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) who cannot be with us today because his father-in-law died late on Wednesday evening. I am sure that everyone present will join me in sending sympathy to the family in their bereavement.
We approach the Bill from two stances, particularly the principled stance which I feel is the key element to it. Many hon. Members will remember the late Jimmy Dempsey, who was the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie, and they will recall the substantial campaign that he mounted over many years to abolish warrant sales in Scotland. More recently the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) has continued that campaign.
There is little doubt that the efforts made by those two hon. Members brought about the Debtors (Scotland) Act 1987, which substantially reduced the number of articles that can be poinded and sold for the purpose of a warrant sale. We all know from schedule 5 to that Act that the exemptions have been substantially increased. That has been welcomed by those of us who have watched the history of warrant sales in Scotland.
However, the basic principle remains that the threat of warrant sales is barbaric and a relic of a bygone age. They no longer have a place in society in the late 20th century and certainly have no place in the 21st century. We must have reached the stage when we can remove the idea of a symbolic gun at someone's head to enforce the payment of debts.
Invariably it is the poorest in society who are most affected by warrant sales. They have no alternative to which they can turn when this form of moral blackmail occurs. They do not have rich relatives or savings in the bank. They live on meagre incomes and struggle to keep the family together and their heads above water. The Scottish Law Commission says that warrant sales are a compensator for debt collection. In 1988 there were 6,173 warrants to sell, but only 714 reports of sales taking place. That information was given in the debate in the House on 10 July 1989 when we debated the Scottish courts administration. There is no doubt about the people against whom warrant sales are directed.
Page 5 of the Scottish Law Commission memorandum No. 48 says that the research shows that the majority of debtors belong to the lowest income groups. Many are unemployed or intermittently employed, depending for their sustenance on social security or intermittent earnings of small amounts. They live on the margins of the statutory level of subsistence, have no savings and their